Nearly 500 people have been unable to give blood at Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center this year because they were considered “at risk” for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. However, many now may be eligible to donate and save lives after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in April it was loosening some of its regulations.
Though it is sometimes referred to as mad cow disease, vCJD is linked to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which inspired the nickname. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a neurological disorder that affects cattle. vCJD is considered its human equivalent. People can obtain the disease by eating tainted meat, and there is research showing vCJD can be contracted via blood transfusion or organ donation. Someone could be infected for years, even decades, before experiencing any symptoms.
Mad cow disease was first identified in the United Kingdom in 1985, according to the FDA, and by 1992, there were 37,000 confirmed cases when officials there took action to prevent the spread. But the disease also spread across Europe and a few dozen cases were reported in places like Japan and Israel, as well as Canada and the United States.
Meanwhile, as of October 2019, 232 total cases of vCJD had been reported worldwide, with four in the U.S. Evidence suggests two of the people identified in the U.S. were exposed in the UK and a third in Saudi Arabia.
In its recommendation, the FDA noted there had been 178 cases in the UK, and 18 of those infected had donated blood that was traced to 67 transfusion recipients. Four of those recipients likely contracted vCJD through the transfusion.
In 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first recommended deferring potential blood donors who spent a significant amount of time in countries where mad cow disease was prevalent. FDA models attributed 95% of the United States’ exposure risk for vCJD to the UK, England and Ireland.
As of July 9, you now can donate if you spent a significant amount of time in any European country except for travel to France and Ireland. People who have spent three or months in the UK between 1980 and 1996 are still unable to give blood. Additionally, people stationed with the military in Europe from 1980 to 1996 may now donate.
Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center welcomes these changes, and we invite anyone who has been deferred or unable to donate because they were previously considered at-risk of vCJD to contact us. You may now be eligible to donate blood, save lives and make an even bigger impact in this community.
If you have questions or would like to learn more about eligibility, visit giveblood.org or call our Donor Advocates at (713) 791-6608.